By Jess Charle
You know you’re an impressive person, when other people try really hard to impress you.
I was not an impressive child. I was actually pretty unimpressive. To give you an idea of how thoroughly unimpressive I was, many east-coast school systems believed I was irreparably mentally handicapped. They realized I had a high IQ, specifically high 130s, low 140s. Not quite genius, but close. The fact that I couldn’t talk till middle school was surprising. I spent most of my childhood with specialists, who tried desperately to figure out why such an intelligent child was performing at such a low level. Finally, they gave up. I was deemed unfixable.
As I grew older, I began to ignore the experts and try to reconcile these two sides of me myself: the dumb, obvious half, and the intelligent unspoken half. In high school, I defied all expectations by flourishing. I spent valuable summers studying in college classes in order to advance to the next level of mathematics, science, literature, and history. I graduated with a high GPA, and got into an ivy league university with an entire semester of college credits already under my belt. I spent my college years taking two more classes each semester than required, and graduated on time with two degrees instead of just one. I got a high-paying job in the city immediately after school.
I was born with a need to compensate for myself. I learned fast how to overcompensate. And thirty years later, I am very, very good at it.
Yet, I still have to pay several hundred dollars a week for therapy, psychotherapy, and drugs. Just because I look successful, doesn’t mean I am.
“It’s Elizabeth.” I say to the intercom. I hear a buzzer from inside the front entrance sound, and I push the door open. The Brooklyn brownstone, now converted into an apartment building, is narrow, so as I enter I must be careful to sidestep the pile of packages waiting for the upper middle-class, one child, two parents city families to arrive home from karate and clarinet lessons.
Rachel, my therapist, likes to talk about my parents a lot. About being exposed to sexuality at too young an age, about being moved from city to city, state to state, about being underestimated, about being ignored. She’s very fascinated with them. To be honest, it’s a bit of an obsession. But somedays, we move away from them.
“How’s the thing with Kyle going?” She asks. I can feel my cheekbones burn as I glance at the warped caramel wood floor. His name isn’t Kyle, but I don’t tell her that. Don’t get me wrong, I love my therapist. But I’m not confident she’d be ok with the knowledge that Kyle is a pseudonym for one of her other patients. I’m worried if I ever told her, she’d disown me as a client. And I don’t think I could handle that.
Clients aren’t supposed to be connected outside of therapy, right? You and your therapist are supposed to be a bubble, completely removed from the outside world, unaffected by anything that doesn’t exist within that one hour every week?
Like most over-achievers and alcoholics, I’m a little insane.
I shrug at Rachel. The Kyle things ok, I say. It’s underwraps.
I had sex with Kyle. I’m not going to lie, it was pretty great. Amazing, really. I don’t know if he’d agree. I’m not convinced he’s not a total slut. He broke it off though. He thought it’d get too complicated. Him being my boss and all.
Whatever. He’s a fucking basic bitch. I don’t know why I’m so obsessed with him. He’s so… unimpressive. So typical. Yet, I can’t go to sleep without thinking about him. Scott texts me and I hope it’s him. Jared calls and my heart flutters with the idea that it’s Kyle. It’s never Kyle though. He has better things to do than to care about me.
But I know that’s selling him short. One drunken night, I opened up myself to him and he encouraged me to seek help, even giving me his therapist’s number.
“I’m sure she’d be happy to help you find someone you could talk to.”
I’m sure he didn’t expect me to see her. I’m not really sure why I did. I often shrug it off as that quiet, highly intelligent but crazy part of me.
I’ve been seeing her for months. I love her. I want to stop loving Kyle. But….
We had a meeting the other week. Me, Kyle, and Jacelyn. Jacelyn. That fucking fat thighed cunt. I watched, bile rising to my throat, as she hugged him like an old friend. As she rested her hand on his arm, explaining the specifics of statistical averages or some bullshit I don’t really care about. He doesn’t hug me. He doesn’t text me. He doesn’t care if I show up or not. I could die in the streets and he wouldn’t notice.
“Elizabeth who?” He’d ask, before brushing his brown hair out of his eyes and taking a sip of coffee.
I could be stabbed by a homeless man, raped by a drunk frat boy, butchered by a deranged psychokiller, and Kyle would shrug before showing up late to my funeral, some size 0 floozy on his arm.
Maybe that’s why I’m obsessed with him? Because he cares so little for me. I’ve been dumped before. A lot, really. I’m not the type of person to do the dumping. I am the type to emotionally manipulate someone else into dumping me. Rachel and I are working on that.
Fucking Jacelyn. The flighty bitch. I don’t even really hate her. I just hate him that much. Yet, I know if he called me, asked me to leave some important event to wait hopelessly at a bar just to be stood up, like I knew I would be, I’d drop everything.
I feel powerless. I feel fucking pissed. After our meeting ended, as I drowned myself in cheap beer and tequila and cigarettes, I fantasized about killing him, about crushing his throat with the weight of my pain, frustration, and hatred. I know I couldn’t though. I know I’d stop. I love him too much.
Luckily, sometimes, the universe provides for us. Last month, it provided something hours with Rachel could never provide: visceral satisfaction.
I live in Manhattan. I’m not bragging, it’s just a fact. Something going to a high end school afforded me, while leaving my bank account in the negative for the rest of my life. I was taking the 6 train home, as I do every night. It was late.
The train was filled, but not crowded. I had the privilege, as a lone white woman, of sitting in a row of seats by myself. Or it could have been that I was in the back corner, a place reserved for the handicap or half passed out drunk college kids at 2am.
A group of young men occupied the row beside me and in front of me, whooping and hollering like a gaggle of monkeys, dangling from the ceiling rails as they pursed their lips outward, echoing each other’s cries of misogyny and ego.
My eyes glanced over at a businessman, sitting half hidden behind the group. His face taut with concentration as he stared at his phone. I snorted silently to myself as I saw the reflection of his screen in the window behind him: he was playing Candy Crush.
Rolling my eyes, I looked to the other side of the car. My gaze fell on a young woman, probably in her early twenties. Her sleeveless blouse was loose, gently hugging the curves of her chest before billowing out around her slim waist. I lingered on her toned arms, tanned from the summer sun. I thought of my eyes as Kyle’s, admiring her femininity with lust.
I looked down at the novel my friend recommended, that had been sitting, neglected, in my purse for the past few months. It was a classic, and the character discussed her prospects of marriage too much for my tastes.
I glazed over the words, my mind lingering unwillingly on Kyle’s scent. He smelled warm and clean, like laundry detergent, yet no one else I knew was followed that much by the scent of clean clothes. He couldn’t be the only one to use that detergent. How does he smell so strongly? It’s like an aerial glue, that pulls at me in every conference, or when he pops by my office to pick something up. It catches in my nose, like the hook on a fisherman’s line, and tugs at me, despite how unwilling I am to follow.
My legs were crossed, and I bobbed my dangling foot in the air. I’ve never been one for sitting still. I’m sure Rachel would say that’s somehow related to that time I walked in on my parents having sex. Five years after their divorce. Not that it was the first time I’d walked in on my father having sex. Just the first time it was with my mother. I remember being nine and seeing his girlfriend’s bare breasts, her large dark nipples protruding as I looked on, wide-eyed, at a scene I couldn’t fully comprehend.
Rachel wasn’t surprised to learn, that the few times I’ve had sex with other women, I seemed to have quite the tit fetish.
I sometimes wonder if that’s why my ex-husband eventually wanted to get a boob job. Or if it was his gender-fluidness I was attracted to in the first place. Or if that’s why I was attracted to Kyle. And Scott. And Jared. They were bros, through and through. Maybe I wanted less female influence in my sex life. Rachel would say that was me fucking less like my dad, and fucking more like I was being fucked by him.
Fucking therapists and their Oedipus complex.
My foot shook with the impatience of sitting still, the old-fashioned yellow subway seat beneath my bare thighs as my business skirt hiked it’s way up towards my lap. I didn’t care. Modesty was never my thing.
I thought of my lifeless corpse, bloated with murky water and cold to the touch, being dragged up from the Hudson, a dull red slit from ear to ear. I imagined the detective, his hand expertly crawling up my thigh, as he examined the bruises my killer left. His signature on my pale skin. Kyle getting a call, telling him I was dead. Him nodding silently, the phone clutched to his ear as he remembered my warm, living body beneath his. As he imagined the spreadsheets he didn’t know how to fill out, left half empty in my work folder on the shared hard drive. My expressionless face lingering in his mind as he glanced over to Jacelyn, her low cut shirt exposing too much cleavage.
I knew from experience that Kyle also had a bit of a tit fetish.
I brought the plastic straw to my lip and took a drink. The warm, bitter taste of beer hit my tongue with pleasure.
The train skidded to an abrupt stop. Looking up, I glanced at the electronic map. Four more stops till I was home. I groaned, and looked around. The young men hadn’t even noticed, the businessman was still engrossed in the sweet falling pieces of brightly colored candy.
I continued to read the words of a woman entwined in the social construct of sex and marriage and the myth of love. I had seen love before. And I knew it to be fake. A half-thought out blend of hormones and evolutional training. Maybe it wasn’t laundry detergent Kyle smelled of, maybe it was pheromones? Sparkly, clean, fabric softening pheromones.
The train was still stopped. I looked up at the map again, as if it would have changed. I’m 15 minutes from my stop. Why am I still here? I uncrossed my legs, recrossing the previously bottom thigh over the other, the damp skin clinging to the yellow plastic. I thought of Jacelyn and her description of some new global social synergistic bullshit. I looked up at the young men in front of me, still hollering as if no one else was in the car with them. I tried to will one to look at me. To fuck me with his eyes.
They didn’t seem to notice. They never do.
I leaned back in the seat, and looked down at my book.
The main lights in the train went off with the low hum of electricity dying. The emergency lights remained on, illuminating the train car in a low white glow. The young men started whooping loudly, braven by the sudden mask of near-darkness. I shifted in my seat, slightly, trying to mask my discomfort. The men continued to pay no attention to me. The businessman looked around in confusion for a brief moment before shrugging to no one and continuing his game.
The emergency lights shuddered, and went out. I blinked in the blackness of the tunnel. I’ve been riding the New York City subways for more than ten years, and I had never seen the emergency lights cut out before. I listened, stretching my ears into the darkness, but only silence greeted me. The young men had become silent. I didn’t think the emergency lights could turn off.
I sat, as still as possible, not breathing. I closed my book slowly, turning my head from side to side, trying to make out any movement that might be coming towards me.
I felt something I don’t feel very often: vulnerability.
Placing the book back into my bag, I tightened my legs against each other, trying to protect myself from the darkness. Hugging my bag to my body, I listened intently. The train was disturbingly silent.
“Boo!” Yelled one of young men. I jumped in my seat and a high pitched scream from his friend followed, along with a chorus of loud laughing. My heart pounded and I sighed with relief. Voices now filled the car around me, normal speech volume increased to compensate for the lack of visuals. My body relaxed as the tension melted from my muscles.
The train filled with the sounds of strangers chatting, some joking about the situation, other freaking out, faces illuminated with the glow of screens and the small flashlight beams from phones traveling from body to body. The train’s speakers were oddly quiet, no staticy voice explaining the bizarre situation. I groaned internally, and closed my eyes, leaning my head back against the greasy glass of the train window, now shrouded in nothingness.
I felt someone sit beside me. Alarms began to ring throughout my head as I shifted slightly away from their mass. I stayed sitting though, not wanting to be rude or to try and walk around in the darkness. The roving flashlights had stopped, pointed at either the ceiling or floor, or occasionally a book. The light illuminated some of the train, but mostly filled it with tall dark shadows. My end of the train remained fairly black. The young men had moved further down, probably trying to find a group of young women to comfort. I squinted towards where I remembered the businessman sitting, but it was too dark for me to see him.
Hot breathing climbed up the side of my neck. Goosebumps formed and I scooted further towards the wall, away from my neighbor. I felt the large mass move with me, pressing up against my side, squeezing me between him and the wall. From the size, I assumed it was a man. His body was firm and he was leaning on me, his thighs, stomach, and chest blanketing me.
I opened my mouth to protest, but a large hairy hand covered half my face. My bag fell to the floor with a quiet clang as I twisted in my seat, trying to force his body away from mine, but he only moved closer.
He rotated onto me, his chest against mine. I could feel his breath on my face. The hand he wasn’t using to cover my mouth grabbing clumsily at my breast. His pants stiffened, his erection pressing against my thigh as hot tears flowed down my cheeks.
My mind jumped away from the situation, and for just a moment, the heavy mass of my attacker was colored over with the sensation of Kyle on top of me. My brain was heavy with alcohol as I reached to him, encouraging his frame onto mine, kissing his neck. I dropped my head into the pillow, my hands on his shoulders as he looked at me, his eyes glazed with lust and beer.
“How’s Stacey?” I had asked.
He shrugged and looked to the wall, “I haven’t seen her in awhile.”
My hand grazed down his chest, relishing in the fine light brown hairs. So soft it felt like fur.
“How have you been?” He asked, not looking at me.
My attacker’s fingers grasped onto my nipple, pinching hard. I squeezed my eyes in pain, and pushed feebly at his form.
How had I been? Why the fuck was I having sex with someone who didn’t ask how I was until seconds away from being inside me? Why the fuck was I in love with a man who I wasn’t convinced would notice if I died? And why the fuck does he refuse to acknowledge me?
I bit down. Hard.
The man gasped, his hand flying from my mouth. I gulped in air from the train, no longer tainted by his sweaty grasp.
Kyle’s half-cocked smile filled my mind
“You’re adorable.” He said.
My hand shot through the black air. I found flesh, and I grabbed at it. It was thick and sweaty, but narrow enough for my fingers to wrap around it. The man gasped and tried to cry out, but the sound was only halfway from his lips before the air stopped and his plea was muted. The din of the train echoed around us as the man fell silent.
“I think we should just be friends.” He said.
I had found his throat.
I squeezed as he tried to fall back, but while he was heavy and strong, I was light and fast. I tightened my grip as I climbed on top of him, my knees digging into his lap. He tried to yelp in pain but no air could escape.
“You’re really good at that.” He said.
His wet throat felt more pliable in my hand than I would have expected. His skin pressed through between my fingers as I used the weight of my body to push into him. One large hand pulled at my arm as the other hit my chest. My breath caught with the force.
“I don’t want to cause any issues at work.” He said.
He grabbed the side of my head, and twisted. My neck strained with pressure, and the spots where his fingers dug into my flesh stung.
I reached my other arm up, squeezing his body between my thighs to keep myself balanced, and took his face in my hand. My thumb found his cheekbone, and then his eye.
“We’ll hang soon.” He said.
I dug my thumb deep into the organ, my other hand clamping his throat hard so his scream couldn’t escape.There was a wet popping sound as the eyeball burst with the pressure. Warm liquid spattered up my arm. The man convulsed, his arm hitting the side of my face hard. I was knocked forward, banging against the plastic seat in front of us. My head rang, and I could feel wetness in my hair.
“Fucking bitch.” He coughed, his voice weak from his damaged throat. His hand grabbed my knee and pulled me towards him. I felt my leg snap with the strain and the sides of the seat dug into me painfully.
I grabbed the man’s head in both of my hands, and pulled. He screamed.
“I’ve been busy.” He said.
“Are you ok?” Someone yelled. I could hear the rest of the train, finally aware of an issue at the back of the car, begin to converge.
“I don’t want you to take it personally.” He said.
I pulled again, kicking in the opposite direction, the hoarse screaming in my ear deafening me, until I heard a loud crack, and the screaming stopped. The weight of the dark mass fell on top of me. Dead.
I laid there, his body on mine, and panted. My eyes were blinded with flashlights and I squinted at the featureless crowd around me.
“What the fuck!?!” Someone screamed.
“He was… he was…” I sputtered, pushing the man off of me. “He was trying to…” I exploded into sobs.
A reassuring arm wrapped around my shoulders, and lead me away from the back of the car as the lights came on.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for the inconvenience.” The conductor’s voice hissed above us, “this train just experienced a complete power failure. We will be pulling into the station in just a moment. Police and medical personnel will be there to assist in any issues that might have arose during the blackout. Please do not leave the station until we’ve confirmed all passengers are ok.”
I looked back at the last seat in the car and saw the businessman who I had noticed playing Candy Crush earlier. He lay on the seats, his mouth opened. One eye stared right at me. The other was a mess of blood, dangling from his eye socket.
Guess what, Kyle. I did take it personally.
I wasn’t convicted of murder. It was bloody and overzealous, but it was still deemed self defense. I found out later that the man who tried to attack me was named Bryan. He had served a two month sentence for sexual assault and attempted rape four years ago. The state appointed lawyer told me that was good. A past criminal record and Bryan’s lack of any family to press charges against me meant I was mostly in the clear.
I was in the news a lot, after it happened. A lot of people called me a victim. Some called me a hero, and some called me a psychotic bitch. I don’t mind though. It feels good to have affected someone. Because I’m affectual. I killed a man with my bare hands. You could even say I’m impressive.